Gardening in East Tn can be pretty intense when it comes to bugs. Even stepping outside for five minutes ensures that you will return to the indoors with at least 5 new insect bites. I have refused to use regular bug spray for years due to it's DEET content but fortunately our plant friends offer quite a few options for all natural herbal alternatives.
When making yourself an herbal bug spray, you can choose to use either fresh/dried herbs or essential oils. Either option works fine but I tend to use herbs rather than essential oils since this is a more sustainable option (it takes lbs and lbs of herbs to make a tiny bottle of essential oil). Also, using herbs from my garden only requires me to purchase witch hazel extract. You generally can find witch hazel extract at any drugstore, although often these extracts are pretty watered down. I order mine for $6 a 16 oz bottle from Mountain Rose Herbs. You can also use rubbing alcohol or vodka in place of the witch hazel. In the recipes below, you will notice that there are an array of herbs to choose from when making your own bug spray. I encourage you to play around and figure out which scents you like best together, since you may be smelling of this spray for most of the summer!
Herbal Bug Spray #1 (Dried Herbs)
8 oz filtered water
8 oz witch hazel extract
3-4 T dried herbs: Rosemary, Peppermint, Spearmint, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Cloves, Citronella, Lemongrass, etc.
1) Boil 1 cup of water and pour over dried herb mix. Cover and let steep until cooled. I like using a mixture of Peppermint, Spearmint, Lavender, and Rosemary but feel free to come up with your own mixes. If using fresh, I recommend using 6-8 T of herbs.
2) Strain out herbs and then combine strong tea with 8 oz of witch hazel extract. Bottle in spray bottle and store in a cool place. If you have room, the fridge is great.
Herbal Bug Spray #2 (Essential Oils)
4 oz filtered water
4 oz witch hazel extract
30-50 drops of essential oils: Rosemary, Eucalyptus, Citronella, Tea Tree, Lavender, Thyme, Clove, Cedar, Mint, etc.
1) This recipe is meant for an 8oz spray bottle. Fill bottle 1/2 full with filtered water, then fill the rest of bottle almost to the top with witch hazel.
2) Add 30-50 drops of essential oils total to the bottle. Cap and shake to blend together. I like Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Clove, and Cinnamon together but once again, the possibilities are endless.
Another option, if you don't have witch hazel or don't want to purchase it, is to add 30-50 drops of the above essential oils to 8 oz of your favorite carrier oil (coconut, sunflower, olive, jojoba, etc.) in a mason jar or bottle. Shake well and then just dab on as needed.